After a decade of playing wildly sloppy, thrillingly messed up garage noise that always seemed on the brink of collapse, Black Lips must have felt like changing things up. So, for their 2011 album, Arabia Mountain, they hit the studio with big shot producer Mark Ronson to tightened up and streamlined their sound. The usual murky haze their albums seemed trapped under is gone and the drums now have a healthy kick, the guitars ring out clearly, and the vocals are out front and proud. Added to the usual guitar-bass-drums set-up are acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies, musical saws, and saxophones both for depth and variety. Songs jump out of the speakers with a force the band never had before, fully half the album could be summer rock radio hits or dance party staples. The slower and quieter songs have a clarity and strength only hinted at before, too; "Don’t Mess Up My Baby" shows they don’t have to make a racket to be messed up and nasty. It’s a daring gamble for the band since they could have easily turned off all the fans who love them for the wildness and unpredictability of their early records (and live shows). They could have slicked things up so much that all the unhinged fun and rambunctious antics were paved over and gone. Luckily, Ronson was only interested in clearing away the mess just enough so the songs could come through loud and clear. And they are probably the best batch of songs the band have come up with yet, from inspiring anthems like “Go Out and Get It” or “New Direction” to sweet odes to Spiderman (“Spidey’s Curse”), from dancefloor rockers ("Raw Meat") to spooky, minor-key crawlers (“Mad Dog”) and songs that make you want to quit your job and start a band (“Family Tree”). The band makes the most of the occasion, and with the help of Ronson (and Deerhunter's Lockett Pundt, who also produced a couple tracks), they nail the change in attitude and sound like champs. The timing for a change was right, too, as their 2009 record 200 Million Thousand was a little forced and uninspired. Arabia Mountain is the absolute opposite and could be their best album yet. It’s a stunning rebirth for a band who could have been running out of steam, but more importantly, the record is a blast from start to finish and that’s all that really matters.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra